Women and girls in South Sudan have been systematically raped, mainly by government soldiers and allied militias, the UN human rights office said Friday, warning that these massive violations have gone largely unnoticed by the world.
The sexual crimes and attacks against civilians that were carried out last year amid the internal conflict in South Sudan may well amount to crimes against humanity because of their systematic and widespread nature, the Geneva-based office said.
"This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war - yet it has been more or less off the international radar," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights.
His office said in its report that while all sides of the conflict had committed serious human rights violations, state actors bore the greatest responsibility.
In South Sudan's oil-rich Unity state, 1,300 rape cases were reported within only five months last year.
"Credible sources indicate groups allied to the government are being allowed to rape women in lieu of wages but opposition groups and criminal gangs have also been preying on women and girls," the report said.
South Sudan has been gripped by violence since December 2013, when a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his political rival Riek Machar evolved into a military conflict.
Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 2.3 million displaced.